The motorcycle that started the adventure bike segment turns 40 years old

BMW Motorrad wouldn’t be where it is right now if not for the GS. It is, by far, BMW Motorrad’s best-selling motorcycle model ever, and has sold over 1.2-million units bearing the GS nameplate alone. This bike, which started the adventure bike segment in 1980, turns 40 this year.

GS refers to either Gelände/Straße (German: off-road/road) or Gelände Sport. Fans of BMW motorcycles simply know the two letters as denoting a bike that can go anywhere.

Side project

BMW GS turns 40 image

Between 1978 and 1980, BMW Motorrad's in-house engineers and mechanics developed their own bikes and created a prototype capable of being approved for road use without an official development order. The prototype, clearly, was designed to be off-road capable with the best ride characteristics worthy of the International Six Days — a nearly weeklong off-road rally referred to as the Olympics of Motorcycling. Seeing the prototype’s potential, BMW Motorrad’s management greenlit the project and in less than 2 years, the R 80 G/S was presented to the public.

In 1981, Hubert Auriol rode to victory in the equally-prestigious and challenging Paris - Dakar Rally. This is just one of the many motorsport successes that BMW Motorrad was able to celebrate with a GS.

The trademark qualities of the boxer GS models – riding dynamics, off-road mastery, comfort, and robustness – have been continuously maintained and developed by BMW Motorrad over the past 40 years and successfully transferred to other BMW Motorrad model series.

In 1993, the F 650 "Funduro" was introduced and was the first single-cylinder BMW enduro bike to come onto the market. While this bike drew its riding dynamics from its low weight and the thrust of the 47 hp single-cylinder, the changing of the guard took place simultaneously on the BMW GS models with boxer engines.

Long Way Series

BMW GS turns 40 imageEwan McGregor and Charlie Boorman

Perhaps one of the turning points in the BMW GS’ history is its rapid rise in popularity in the 2000s thanks to a starring role in a TV show. Three BMW R 1150 GS motorcycles were featured in the mini-series, Long Way Round in 2004. The series featured the journey of Hollywood actor, Ewan McGregor, and motorcycle adventurer, Charlie Boorman, as they traveled 31,000 kilometers from London to New York, via transcontinental Europe, Asia, and North America.

In 2007, the duo again embarked on a transcontinental journey, this time, a 24,000-kilometer adventure from Scotland to South Africa, appropriately called Long Way Down. This time, they rode the R 1150’s successor, the R 1200 GS Adventure.

R 1250 GS

BMW GS turns 40 imageR 1250 GS Adventure and R 1200 Rallye (Photo by Emman Salazar)

Though it can be said that the basic design of BMW’s boxer engine has remained largely unchanged for almost a century, the boxer that powers the R 1250 GS / Adventure is one of the most advanced engines in production bikes seen today.

In 2018, BMW Motorrad once again introduced a radical upgrade for the boxer engine of the large GS models in order to further improve power and torque yield as well as reduce fuel consumption and emission values. To achieve these goals, BMW ShiftCam Technology was used for the first time in production BMW Motorrad engines. This allowed valve timing and valve stroke on the intake side to be varied. In addition, the intake camshafts were designed for asynchronous opening of the two intake valves, resulting in enhanced swirl of the fresh, incoming mixture and therefore more effective combustion. Other technical changes to the engine related to the camshaft drive – now taken care of by a toothed chain (previously a roller chain) – optimized oil supply, twin-jet injection valves, and a new exhaust system.

We’ve tested the new R 1250 GS, and personally, this motorcycle is the closest thing to being a perfect bike. It can manage regular roads, rough roads, and everything in between easily. It's all just a matter of tinkering with the settings and trusting the bike.

It has certainly come a long way from a group of engineers' side project. And we don't see it retiring any time soon. Happy birthday, GS!